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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/ 8/2008

Could YOU Survive? Two Tales That Astound

By Camden Walker

Extreme weather yields aftermath, but also miracles

Humans have been put to the test this week. Violent tornadoes in the South. Heavy snow in the West.

Story number one comes out of Tuesday's tragic tornado outbreak that killed more than 50 people. An 11-month old baby covered in mud and grass was still alive, and shivering, when rescuers found him thrown 100 yards from his home by a tornado that decimated the Tennessee town of Castilian Springs.

Story number two takes us to Utah, where a couple and their dog were stranded in waist-deep snow for 12 days. Somehow, they managed to stay warm, nourished and alive until they were found on Wednesday by a snow plow driver.

How about you? Would you have been counted lucky if met by such extreme conditions? Maybe you have a story of your own about how you fared in the face of surprising or severe weather? I'll start the discussion by sharing my own tale:

On a May morning in 1989, I awoke to find trees down all over the road. On top of several houses. On my family's car and our neighbors' cars. It was a mess! It looked like a tornado had come down our street, but we later learned it was a microburst, which is a localized blast of wind produced by a thunderstorm.

After the fact, my parents reported going outside during the heavy rain and talking with neighbors who thought they heard the "train" sound often associated with tornadoes. But the damage hadn't even happend yet.

It was a pretty amazing story. I wish I hadn't been such a sound sleeper... and slept right through it. AH, well!

By Camden Walker  | February 8, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Media  
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Comments

I'll break the ice with this "embarrassing-for-a-meteorologist" story:

A couple winters back, my wife and I were headed up by car to NYC on a Saturday morning. We knew we had to leave by a certain time to beat an approaching snowstorm. But we left late anyway, around 10 a.m. Then the windshield wiper fluid spouts froze up. Can't drive in snow without that, so we lost another hour or so at a gas station waiting for a mechanic to help us out (he was busy helping out others with the same problem).

All the while, the snow has started, and is gradually picking up in intensity. North on I-95 we go. 50 mph ... then 40 mph ... then 30 mph is the fastest that seems safe as the snow starts to pile up on the pavement. Of course that didn't seem to stop a select group of idiots from racing past us, only to be seen caught in an accident or a ditch a few miles up the road.

We were determined to make it to the City. We had tix for a Broadway show that night. But by the time we reached Newark, Delaware, it became clear we had come to the end of our drive. Visibility was diminishing quickly, and even the smart drivers were skidding off the road and into accidents.

Which brings us to the Newark Applebees. There we spent a good few hours eating lunch, watching the Weather Channel, and watching the radar on my cell phone debating what to do next. The prospects of making it to NYC dimmed as the snow became heavier and heavier to our north, with accumulation predictions for New Jersey and New York in the 8-12" range.

So back south on I-95 we headed -- after shoveling the car out of the several inches of snow that had fallen while in the restaurant. 30 mph .. then 40 mph ... then back to full speed as the snow was coming to an end in Maryland and the DC area (as typical, it was one of those 3-inch storms for DC while New York got hammered).

By the time we got home that evening we had managed a net distance for the day of 0 miles. The only saving grace was that, because of the storm, Telecharge had decided to offer refunds for those holding tickets to shows that night.

Posted by: Dan, Capital Weather Gang | February 8, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Nothing great on my end, but if you want to read a cool book on how to survive in things like this, Laurence Gonzalez's "Deep Survival" is excellent. I mean really excellent.

Posted by: DC Centurion's Shield | February 8, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Dan, No Offense and great story but, Im sick of 'big' snow stories and pictures. Since we cannot seem to get snow here anymore, it only makes us snowlovers jelous.
Remember when.....back in 96,2002..its crazy...I hope its just La Nina. This winter has been such a bummer. Im sorry to be a drag. I hope we get hammered soon like Northwest. One area I read got 5 feet...Id be happy to see five flakes.

Posted by: ChrisfromVA | February 8, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Chris -- I'm with ya in missing the snowstorms of yesteryear. But have faith. These things go in cycles. We'll get a legit snowstorm here, eventually.

Posted by: Dan, Capital Weather Gang | February 8, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I was living in Minneapolis and needed to get to Rochester, MN one weekend. I knew when I left work that they had recommended no travel south - but I went anyway. I was really scared a couple of times - there was a semi behind me and a snow-filled right lane - but I had to get over 'cause he couldn't stop. He went whooshing by just as I got over - and I had to stop because of all the snow he blew onto me in my little Honda. Luckily, I could get going again. No one else was on the road so it didn't matter that I stopped. I pulled into a diner to call home (this was before cell phones). I told them to send someone out after me if I wasn't there in 45 minutes - it usually would take me 25 from that spot. I made it in about 50 - this was really stupid on my part, but in the end, I made it. Would I do it again? Well, probably not, but I really wanted to get home that night. I MISS THE SNOW!!!

Posted by: from MN | February 8, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Wow, MN. That is quite daring-- glad you made it ok! And that you didn't have one big search party sent out for you, either :)

Posted by: Camden, Capital Weather Gang | February 8, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I got stuck in a snowdrift coming back fom taking a friend home from college on the Tug Hill Plateau. I spent almost 40 hours before being found. Did the usual: cleared the exhaust of snow, ran the truck 15 minutes every hour, had some chips and soda, melted snow for water, etc. The worst part was the boredom.

Posted by: John - Burke | February 8, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

It's funny how our collective memories of how it used to really snow back in the day don't really match with the data.

Over time, by definition, the weather is and always will be, "average." For instance I cannot recall all the 50 degree plus days during the winters of my youth, but the records clearly say they were there.

We just need a few big storms for the next generation, so that they too can participate in this group partial memory exercise when they get older.

Posted by: Curtis | February 8, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I was in a lot of big snows up around Menomonie and Eau Claire, WI during the years before I came to Washington in 1972. Funny but people up there don't worry that much about travel during the big snowstorms. One really bad exception occurred before I was born--the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. My dad and maternal grandfather used to tell us stories about that storm in the years before they died.

Posted by: El Bombo | February 8, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm late, but I'll chime in anyway. I lived near Johnstown, PA, in 1977, and I slept through the devastating flood that hit in July that year. Strong thunderstorms with lots of moisture had parked themselves over the Conemaugh Valley and surrounding areas on the night of July 19. Not only did it pour down rain, but the thunder and lightening was constant for most of the night; nevertheless, I slept on through it all and awoke to devastation the next morning. The bottom of my street was missing - just gone, completely gone, and we learned that the neighbor whose house was at the bottom of the street rescued his next door neighbor who had blundered into the water, responding to a fire alarm in the pitch black dark. Alarms apparently rang all night, amidst the noise of thunder, but I never heard them.

According to a Harvard-published abstract I found, the stalled line of thunderstorms was a quasi-circular mesoscale convective complex; here is the link to the extremely informative abstract: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1981JAtS...38.1616B

Posted by: ~sg | February 9, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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